BY CURTIS WOODWARD
Vaai Taumalolo has done everything in the game except win a Rugby League World Cup. It isn’t the prettiest opening paragraph you’ll ever read but it’s simple and much like the hulking Tongan’s mindset on the football field.
While Tonga and their rabid fans took the 2017 tournament by storm, finally falling to England in the semi-finals, 2022 could see the historic moment we’ve all been waiting for.
Could a nation, outside the “big three”, do the unthinkable?
Big Vaai, lumped with ‘Jason’ as a kid by a school teacher that couldn’t pronounce his name, has one box to tick in his incredible career.
An NRL premiership with North Queensland in 2015, 236 first grade matches, a Dally M Medal, 14 Tests for Tonga, 10 for New Zealand.
Hell, he even played for the Australian Schoolboys as a 16-year-old.
This is a Cup made for Taumalolo.
Even more so now that the big bloke will miss the first two tournament matches due to suspension.
Does that not add another layer to the story?
The Tongans are an impressive squad.
He is still their leader, but his teammates can take a game away from their opposition on their own – which makes Taumalolo even more frightening when he does return.
Taumalolo can play his game.
It’s the perfect story.
Tonga must win without him before the legend rises from the ashes and repays the faith.
“Obviously playing rugby league is all about being a good player,” the monster middle forward told Big League magazine in 2018.
“…but it’s also about being a better person.”
Here stands the blueprint, the perfect role model for budding youngsters across the Pacific.
A crushing, firestorm of power, speed and even, a little grace.
Financial investment in grassroots rugby league, anywhere in the world, is vital to the game’s growth but there’s nothing like what Taumalolo has already done in the sport and what could happen in the following weeks.
“The  World Cup last year, I’d never been a part of something like that before,” Taumalolo went on.
“It was a really special experience.
“The following we had and the support we had was overwhelming. It made our journey in the World Cup that much more special.”
Tonga returns to England as true heavyweights.
But it was a different story at the corresponding tournament in 2013.
Their campaign began with a shock loss to Scotland in Workington before scratching out a sloppy 16-0 victory over Italy in Halifax. Within a blink of an eye out, they were out.
Didn’t even make it out of their group.
Australia would go on to beat New Zealand easily in the final at Old Trafford and the red jersey of Mate Ma’a faded back into international rugby league’s abyss.
And then Jason Taumalolo happened.
Ahead of the 2017 World Cup, Taumalolo sent shockwaves through the rugby league world by announcing his intention to switch allegiances from the Kiwis to Tonga.
His call to arms soon saw the likes of Andrew Fifita and other stars do the same.
The revolution had begun.
Both his parents were born in Tonga.
“I just feel the World Cup provides developing nations like Tonga an opportunity to play on the big stage and I would like to help them with their campaign,” he said at the time.
In 1994, King of Tonga, Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV wrote the ‘Sipi Tau’.
One of the lines describes Taumalolo perfectly.
“I will stomp the ground with a thunderous noise.”
They might need to find a crown for Vaai Taumalolo if Tonga wins the World Cup.